Bunny Shaw for Player of the Season? Women's Super League winners and losers as the title race takes another turn
This weekend was a nightmare for Manchester United. Not only did they suffer defeat to league leaders Chelsea, but each of their rivals for the European spots - and the Women's Super League title - also won.
It could end up being a pivotal weekend in the season, such was the drama of Manchester City's late win at Brighton, with there big results at the other end of the table, too.
Bottom club Leicester got a point at home to Everton, Liverpool defeated Tottenham in a battle between two strugglers and Reading suffered a heavy 4-0 defeat to Arsenal, all while Aston Villa continued to impress in a 2-1 win over West Ham.
So, who were the big winners this gameweek? And for whom did it all go wrong? GOAL takes a look...
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After suffering a disappointing defeat in the Continental Cup final last week, all eyes were on Chelsea and on how they would respond as they returned to WSL action.
On Wednesday night, they beat Brighton 3-1 and, seven days after watching Arsenal lift that trophy instead of them, they were victorious on Sunday in a huge game against Manchester United.
Still without key players Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder, the Blues' woes were added to with midfield lynchpin Erin Cuthbert missing due to a tight hamstring and Guro Reiten, who leads the WSL in assists this year, out because of illness.
Yet, they took all three points in a game between the table's top two teams thanks to Sam Kerr's gorgeous finish from Lauren James' wonderful ball.
Watch it. Enjoy it. 😍 pic.twitter.com/xVOrf1XWAc— (C)helsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) March 12, 2023
"Sometimes I feel like other teams get a hall pass for injured players," manager Emma Hayes said after the game. "We’ve been without Fran and Pernille for almost the entirety of the season.
"This team deserves huge credit as a whole. Not just Sam. We’ve kept a clean sheet today after a difficult and underwhelming performance against Arsenal last weekend.”
Two points clear at the top of the table and still with a game in hand - that's how you bounce back.
LOSER: Manchester United
Chelsea have not lost a home game since February 2021. To go to Kingsmeadow and win is not easy, that much is certain.
Manchester United didn't come close to breaking that streak on Sunday, as they struggled to really test Ann-Katrin Berger in the home goal despite having the lion's share of possession.
That will have frustrated head coach Marc Skinner, his players and the fans of the team alike, no doubt.
But the Red Devils can also feel aggrieved. They had two very strong penalty shouts in this game and they didn't get either of them.
“Two penalties in a game like this are massive," Skinner said afterwards. "Chelsea get a goal that’s offside the other day, so these are decisions that will make and break where you finish in the table - and we say ‘it balances out’. Well, I’m hopeful that we see it.”
To see Man City win at Brighton at the death only a few hours later, before Arsenal then beat Reading in the late kick-off, rounded off United's bad day, with them the only side in the top four not to win.
- Getty Images
WINNER: Bunny Shaw
Bunny Shaw has to be a Player of the Season contender. In fact, she has to be one of the front-runners.
On Sunday, she scored twice as Man City beat Brighton 2-1, her second coming in the 89th minute, just as it looked like City were going to make the trip back to the north west having lost ground in the title race.
It was Shaw's ninth goal in her last three games. It was the third match-winning goal she's scored in the WSL this season, not including the decisive hat-trick she netted in a recent 3-1 win over Spurs.
Take away her goals this season - which sit her top of the standings in the race for the Golden Boot - and City would lose 13 points, dropping them down to sixth place.
This is not a one-player team by any means. That is not the point being made here. After all, there have been a large handful of standout performers in this City side this season.
But has there been a player in the league who has been more important to their side than Shaw this campaign? Arguably not.
LOSER: Rehanne Skinner
Two points and two places above the drop zone, the stats don't make for good reading if you're Tottenham Hotspur and their head coach, Rehanne Skinner.
Her team have now lost all of their last nine games in the WSL, four of those without scoring. They've not won a league match since October, and it's a run of form that has put their place in the top flight in serious danger.
On Sunday, they lost a huge game against fellow strugglers Liverpool, who lifted themselves into a much more comfortable position as a result. Skinner bemoaned the Reds' winning goal, claiming that is was "clearly offside", but Spurs didn't trouble Liverpool goalkeeper Rachael Laws enough at all during the game.
The coach appeared calm before this fixture when talking about her position. “Nothing’s changed in terms of what we’re trying to achieve here. It’s a long-term project. That was how it was explained to me before I came into the role," she said.
But the stats are bleak. If there is not pressure on her already, then there could be in a few days' time. On Wednesday, Spurs play bottom-club Leicester, who have improved massively since appointing Willie Kirk in November.
Should Leicester win, they would leapfrog Spurs.
WINNER: Kirsty Hanson
Aston Villa have done a lot of very good transfer business this season. Rachel Daly is in contention for the Golden Boot, Kenza Dali deserves to be in the conversation for Player of the Season, Dan Turner has been incredibly reliable in defence and Jordan Nobbs has been electric since joining in January.
But one signing that has gone under the radar is that of Kirsty Hanson, the Scotland international who arrived on loan from Manchester United last summer.
The 24-year-old is only second to Chelsea's Guro Reiten in the assists charts this term, with seven to her name. She's also netted three goals, meaning she has been directly involved in 10 goals in 14 appearances.
Hanson assisted twice in the 2-1 win over West Ham this past weekend, a win which put Villa six points clear of sixth-placed Everton, meaning Carla Ward's side are firmly leading the way as 'the best of the rest' in the WSL this year.
A lovely ball from @KirstyHanson3 ✨— Barclays Women's Super League (@BarclaysWSL) March 12, 2023
And @JordanNobbs8 is there with the sliding finish 🙌#BarclaysWSL @AVWFCOfficial pic.twitter.com/86whOsljZq
Hanson's parent club must be watching on with great interest as she shines, especially given they don't have a fixed regular on the right of their front three.
And if she doesn't play her football with them next season, there will be clubs queueing up for Hanson's signature with the season she's having.
Brighton were within seconds of an absolutely massive result this weekend. Before Bunny Shaw popped up with her 15th league goal of the season, they were about to take a point off a Man City team who are competing for the title.
It would've taken them a point further away from the drop zone and level with Spurs, albeit with a much worse goal difference.
As the ball hit the back of the net in the 89th minute to condemn them to defeat, you could see the devastating effect it had on the players. To see them drop to the floor in despair summed up a difficult week on the south coast.
Last Monday, Brighton parted ways with head coach Jens Scheuer. The German was in charge for just three WSL games before leaving by mutual consent, with the Telegraph reporting that the decision was due to concerns about his management style. Assistant Amy Merricks is in charge for now - for the second time this season.
On Wednesday, they had the most difficult fixture you can have two days after letting a manager go: Chelsea away. They lost 3-1. Facing Man City at home on Sunday was only a marginally a kinder game, with the eventual outcome incredibly cruel.
A point and a place above the drop zone, the Seagulls have a very important game away at Reading in two weeks' time. But at least they can put this tough week behind them now and focus on something very positive - a big chance to reach the the FA Cup semi-finals. They face Championship side Birmingham on Sunday.